Editor’s Note: Ron Leeman is a world-recognized Change Manager and author of several Change, Process, and Project training guides on Flevy. He has decided to write a series of articles that chronicle his personal “change” journey. This is the second installment. You can read the first piece here. You can also learn more about Ron and his approach to Change in our recent interview with him.
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Before I start, I have a bit of an anecdote for you related to my previous article. When I first applied to go on the Work Study course at Shrivenham, I had to go through an assessment and interview process and was told that my application was borderline and they concluded that I would probably not be suited to this kind of work, but as they needed people, they OK’d me to attend the course. All I will say is…
So, here we go Part 2a of the Life and Times of a Change Manager… the Abbey/Abbey National years between 1989 and 1996, but specifically my early years and my work as:
- A Business Analyst for their Systems Division in Milton Keynes.
- A Productivity Consultant for their Productivity Services Department in London.
I will follow this up with a Part 2b and a Part 2c, which will cover my time as a Productivity Consultant, Process Improvement Consultant, and Profit Improvement Consultant following a move to Abbey National’s HQ in Milton Keynes.
As I said at the end of the previous article, I resigned from the MoD in 1989, because of the strict protocols in place regarding promotion e.g. X number of years in the job, X number of above satisfactory work reviews, etc. Basically, you could not get promoted on merit alone, so I left to join what was then Abbey National, which later converted from a Building Society into a Bank and became Abbey National plc and then Abbey.
I have to say that this was a difficult decision, because having been with the MoD “man and boy” for some 20-years, on the cusp of my 40th birthday and having been finally selected for promotion, you can imagine some of the trials and tribulations I was going through!
- Could I cut it in the private sector?
- Am I too old to be doing this?
- What if I fail?
But, I was stuck in a rut and needed a change (no pun intended), so I applied for two jobs and got an interview for both. This was certainly a boost to the ego. I went to both interviews and was offered both jobs with almost the same salary, which incidentally was way more than I was earning with the MoD. After careful consideration, I opted for the Abbey National role as a Business Analyst in Milton Keynes, UK.
Off I trot to start my new job and was immediately landed with a project to evaluate and select a suitable PC computer security solution for Abbey National’s Systems Audit and IT Security Department, which was to be rolled-out across the Group. Coming from the fairly mundane work I did at the MoD, this was a bit of a bombshell. I had never been asked to do something of this importance and magnitude with such a far reaching impact. And, in addition, way back then, computer security was not the big deal it is today, so, in essence, I was going to be breaking new ground. Anyway, not being the kind of person to be phased by such an undertaking, I recalled a slogan that had been coined the previous year by Nike–“Just Do It.”
So I did!
With my thinking hat on I defined the key process steps:
- Identify scope e.g. how many computers to be protected.
- Define overall requirements.
- Define selection criteria e.g. the Must have, Desirable, Nice to have and Not important.
- Identify suppliers … some of those suppliers are still “big in security” today:
- Request information from suppliers.
- Evaluate solutions against requirements.
- Short list.
- Solution selection.
I only got to the “evaluate stage” (the reason why is in the next section). but the memory that sticks in my mind is that after some painstaking and detailed analysis of the different solutions against the pre-determined criteria I recorded all of this onto a spreadsheet and color coded the solution capabilities against the selection criteria to make it easy to identify those suppliers that were able to fulfill our requirements against the selection criteria e.g.:
- Green … fully met requirements.
- Orange … partially met requirements.
- Red … did not meet requirements
So, the solution provider with the most “green” was the one best suited. My boss saw this and commented how good it was to display the analysis in a simple and easy way that anyone could understand without necessary having to look at the detail. It was at this stage I felt that I had “made my mark” and it was also the foundation of two things I still try and follow today:
Anyway, back to the reason why I never finished the project.
In an internal newsletter there were some Productivity Consultant jobs being advertised at Grade 9 in London. I was currently a Grade 7 btw. The JD fitted my experience perfectly but I had only been with Abbey National for just over 6-weeks so I wondered if I was able to apply and, in addition, I felt I might be letting down my current boss. Having ascertained from HR that I could apply for a job that involved promotion at any time and also after speaking with my boss, who gave me the “green light” (back to colours … LOL) to apply, I did. I was interviewed by two Senior Productivity Consultants one of whom liked me and the other was not so sure but, low and behold I got the job, with a salary increase to boot! What a stark contrast to the restrictive promotion practices during my years with the MoD!
So after 3-months as a Business Systems Analyst I became a Productivity Consultant and went to work at Abbey National’s building in Baker Street, London. “Baker Street? Isn’t that …” I here you ask? Yep made famous by two things:
- A classic song (one of my favourites) by the late Gerry Rafferty, and of course …
- 221b Baker Street the world-famous fictional address of Sherlock Holmes (the museum was just a few doors down from the Abbey National building)
Talking about bombshells! On my first day I was given not one but two projects … my goodness I would have to multi-task!!! Again the negative thoughts came back to haunt me but as I had some success in my previous role the Nike ad came back into play. So here are the two projects?
Project 1: Making Efficiencies to the Mortgage Application Process
This was a project that had already been kicked-off by a colleague who had determined that one of the main areas of delay was getting a completed Surveys from the Surveyors to Lending Operations. The current process, which pre-dated e-mails & attachments as we know them today, or any kind of centrally accessible storage systems, was to send the completed survey by internal post. This obviously relied on the efficiency of that process and sometimes took up to 3-days!
So my colleague came up with the technically astute idea of using faxes to send survey reports. Faxes during the 80’s and the 90’s were the most used medium to transmit images and documents. This eradicated the problem of distance and time when it came to sending documents.
Thinking back to my previous project it was kind of similar:
- Identify scope e.g. how many and where faxes were needed.
- Define selection criteria e.g. quality and speed of transmission, single or multiple page feeds, with or without a handset, pricing etc.
- Identify suppliers … these suppliers are also still around today (just like the computer security companies):
- Request for information from suppliers.
- Evaluate the most suitable fax machines against specific requirements.
- Short list.
- Fax machine selection … different specifications for different locations.
- Create purchase orders.
- Buy machines
- Plan a phased roll-out
- Roll-out against plan.
- Monitor and assess return on investment and a reduction in the overall Mortgage Application Process.
Apart from a few hic-ups (aren’t there always) the project went well and faxes were installed in key Survey Offices and Lending Centres and the desired level of efficiency and RoI was achieved. Whoopeeee!!!
Project 2: Evaluating Saturday-afternoon Branch Opening
Many Abbey National Branches were already open until 12 noon on a Saturday morning but there were indications that customers were coming to Branches late in the morning to transact before the Branch closed for the weekend which resulted in long queues. There were also some reports of customers queuing outside of Branches and on being denied entrance after closing time had several angry exchanges with Branch staff. This clearly was not something that was wanted.
Again this project had already been started and there were a number of Branches in a pilot that were open until 3pm on a Saturday PM so my task was two-fold:
- Monitoring the pilot Branches that were already open on a Saturday PM.
- Determining whether there were any other Branches that could be included in the pilot.
Monitoring those Branches that were open until 3pm consisted of analysing statistics sent in by Branches e.g.:
- Transaction profiles … comparing pre and post PM opening hourly transaction profiles to monitor the shift of transactions from AM to PM.
- Queue profiles … hourly customers counts to assess queue lengths to monitor whether there was a reduction in AM queuing due to shifting transactions.
- Customer feedback … qualitative and anecdotal feedback from customers about the benefits, or otherwise, of PM opening.
Another anecdote for you … because the analysis was painstakingly boring I can remember listening to music on my Sharpe Cassette Recorder and Headphones. This didn’t impress my Line Manager because he asked me to stop. Do what? Did it impact the quality of the work I was doing? No! So what was the problem? Because it did not look professional … oh dear! Anyway I did has I was asked.
Assessing requests from Branches to join the pilot e.g.:
- Provision of Saturday AM transaction and queue data to compare with data already held on Branches in the pilot to determine if profiles were similar.
- Branch visits to undertake surveys aimed at both Branch Staff and Customers regarding Saturday PM opening.
As a result a number of Branches joined the pilot and the continuous monitoring of all pilot Branches eventually gave the Retail Director enough evidence to conclude that Saturday PM opening was successful and, importantly, was something that customers wanted. The pilot scheme was eventually rolled-out to selected Branches on a countrywide basis. What a contrast to today when there is almost an expectation of a 24/7 service!
So, there we have it, Part 2a of the Life and Times of a Change Manager.